|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:34-49 God so ordered it, that though the Merarites were the fewest in number, yet they should have most able men among them; for whatever service God calls men to, he will furnish them for it, give strength in proportion to the work, and grace sufficient. The least of the tribes had many more able men than the Levites: those who engage in the service of this world, are many more than those devoted to the service of God. May our souls be wholly devoted to his service.
Verse 48. - Those that were numbered of them were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore. The census of each family is described in the same form of words with much particularity. No doubt it was carried out with extreme solicitude, as made for a purpose especially sacred and important. The results are remarkable in more ways than one. The following table presents the numbers in each family above one month, and between the ages of thirty and fifty. Kohath, 86002750percent 32
Gershon, 75002630 35
Merari, 62003200 5122,800858038The first conclusion which naturally arises from these figures is, that after all the numbering must have been made by tens, and not by individuals. As it was impossible that 3000 persons could be employed in carrying the various portions of the tabernacle, it may be that each group of ten undertook a unit of responsibility. The second consideration is, that the average of men between thirty and fifty in all Levi is higher than modern statistics show (it is said to be twenty-five per cent. now in the whole population), although not very materially. The third is, that this average is very unequally distributed, rising to a most remarkable proportion in the case of Merari. It is quite clear that something must have disturbed the relative numbers as between the Merarites and the other families. It has been suggested that the small number of male Levites generally, and the small number of male Kohathites, between thirty and fifty especially, may have been caused by heavy losses incurred in carrying out the Divine sentence upon the worshippers of the golden calf (Exodus 32). But -
1. The slow increase of Levi continued to be very observable down to the time of David; while the other tribes grew from 600,000 to 1,300,000, he only increased to 38,000 (1 Chronicles 23:3).
2. The average of males over thirty is already higher among the Kohathites than might have been expected; it is the largeness of the number, not the smallness, which needs to be explained.
3. It is Merari, and not Kohath, that is markedly distinguished from the other two: there is little difference between Kohath and Gershon. It is evident that something must have happened to the tribe of Levi, and in especial to the family of Merari, to reduce very greatly the number of births within the last thirty years. We do not know what the causes were, or why they should have pressed much more heavily on one tribe, or one family, than on another; but it is easy to see that many such causes may have acted, and acted unequally, under the cruel tyranny of Pharaoh. The children may have been systematically slaughtered, or marriages may have largely ceased, while Moses was in the land of Midian. If this were generally the case, it would much diminish the estimated total of the nation, and still more the estimated difficulties of the march.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Even those that were numbered of them,.... See Gill on Numbers 4:34.
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